Friday, August 29, 2008

Robert Caro on LBJ and Civil Rights

From the Times of New York. LBJ in at least one respect is a highly underrated President. I doubt JFK could have passed that bill. The Vietnam War is destroyed more than just lives and property. It destroyed the legacy of a flawed yet decent man who ended up as President.

Men and women who knew Lyndon Johnson, however, felt there was another element to the story. They included the Mexican-American children of impoverished migrant workers he had taught as a 21-year-old schoolteacher in the little town of Cotulla, Tex.; to the ends of their lives they would talk about how hard he had worked to teach and inspire them. “He used to tell us this country was so free that anyone could become president who was willing to work hard enough,” one student said.

Others remember what one calls the story about the “little baby in the cradle.” As one student recalled, “He would tell us that one day we might say the baby would be a teacher. Maybe the next day we’d say the baby would be a doctor. And one day we might say the baby — any baby — might grow up to be president of the United States.”

His former students weren’t alone. Men and women at Georgetown dinner tables were also convinced of the sincerity of Johnson’s intentions. “I remember at this dinner party, Johnson talking about teaching the Mexican-American kids in Cotulla, and his frustration that they had no books,” recalls Bethine Church, the wife of Senator Frank Church of Idaho. “I remember it as one of the most passionate evenings I’ve ever spent.”

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